School, A Quote, and Some Reflection

I’m about to finish my first semester of grad school. I took two classes – Human Behavior in the Social Environment and Social Welfare Policy. I shed some tears and felt a serious amount of stress, but overall, my experience has been amazingly worthwhile.

I forgot how to use my brain in a classroom learning capacity, so that adjustment took some time. There is an incredible amount of reading required for a graduate degree (duh) and I’m surprised at how quickly I got into a groove of getting my shit done way in advance, absorbing the content, and kicking ass on assignments. As in, getting a 100% on my second policy paper after I cried hysterically over the first.

I went through a period in the first few weeks when I would dread the start of the live session (online program-speak for ‘class’. Just picture a Skype session with 16 other people set up in a grid with live chatting capabilities and you’ve got it.) But now that I’m almost done with week 13 of 14 of live sessions, I feel comfortable before class starts, not anxious as fuck about whether or not I’ll know how to contribute to the conversation in a meaningfully appropriate and graduate level way. I’ve continually surprised myself, which is new. I’ve unknowingly pushed myself out of my comfort zone and so far, I’m doing better than I thought I would.

I don’t know how to express how unimaginable it still feels to me that I have actually begun this process. I mean, a year and a half ago I was…lost, still broken, looking for attention in destructive places and ways, not loving myself, not engaged in anything meaningful and generally depressed. I was a shadow of who I am today. I’ve woken up from my coma of self-medicating and escaping. There’s a quote by Mary Karr who wrote a memoir about her recovery experience called ‘Lit’, that I have on my laptop’s lock screen and I see it every time I fire this baby up. It says: ‘There are women succeeding beyond their wildest dreams because of their sobriety.’ It forces a tiny knowing smile onto my face every time I read it.

The word sobriety has multiple meanings for me. A year ago it meant that I had to stop drinking entirely because I was a hopeless, disgusting, and troubled addict. ‘Sobriety’ felt urgent. It felt like an emergency. It felt like my last resort. That kind of sobriety will never stick, at least for me.

Today, the word feels like a departure from the thinking and behavioral patterns that were holding me down and less like an urgent need to immediately stop every single last bad habit I have in their dirty tracks. Now, it’s more a letting go of the fear that I wasn’t good enough. It’s also an acceptance that every bad decision I made during those days do not define who I am as a person. I used to feel so disgusted with myself. So fucking fed up and angry at myself for not being able to be better. And, yes, I still feel like that as I occasionally feel the pull to say ‘fuck it’ and succumb to the waves of sadness or worry or stress that often come over me. There’s a difference between letting the feelings completely bowl me over to the point of needing to say ‘fuck it’ and, feeling the emotion, giving it the time it needs to be felt and moving on without needing to escape from that discomfort. The decisions I used to make and will sometimes make in the future are only that, decisions. They don’t in any way mean I am a terrible person. I’m a good person who had/has a few bad habits.

As I move farther away from my days of drinking to numb and escape and acting out sexually and ghosting through my existence, I marvel at how dependent I unknowingly was on those behaviors to get me through. I had a conversation with an old friend recently who is going through a tough time and is self-medicating in much the same way that I used to. I can see so much of my addictive behaviors in her. I can see the hurt. I can feel the pain. I can practically smell the self-loathing drifting off her skin. I wish I could coax her out of this process and make her heal the wounds she’s desperately and defensively licking but I can’t. I have to let this period in her life run its’ course, much as I had to let the drinking days in my life run theirs.

This addiction/sobriety thing is a tricksy asshole, isn’t it?

I’m beginning to feel grateful for it because living through and growing from my experiences is going to make me a pretty badass social worker once I’m done with school. Nothing will be able to stop me and my success will be wild.

Better late than never

I’m realizing more and more lately that I don’t know how to remain in a state of contentment. I am pretty sure I never learned how, there was always something going on, something changing, someone moving in, someone moving out, constant motion. When I look back to when I was little, the one thing that sticks out in terms of consistency was the feeling that I couldn’t settle down emotionally because the majority of my weekends (and sometimes weeknights) beyond the age of 8 or 9 were spent somewhere other than my home, in my bed. Sometimes I slept at the house of the woman who cared for my aging grandmother, or with a family friend that I didn’t really like, or at a friend’s house. I honestly can’t say how often this happened, but it was a regular enough occurrence that I vividly remember how it felt to be ‘shuffled off’ to somewhere else.

Why was I being shuffled? Because my parents had to spend their free time dealing with the ever evolving, ever emotionally draining, and ever challenging enigma that was my older brother. They drove hours to Pennsylvania to visit him while he was enrolled in ‘school’ (it was really a rehabilitation center for troubled youth). Or, they went to secret court meetings with lawyers to work out what would be the best course of action when he stole the car. Or, they were out looking for him when he ran away from home for the 15th time. It must have been so difficult for them. They were trying to care for the their troubled kid who sought their attention through vehement rebellion and utter behavioral dysfunction. That’s what they had to do. They were without a choice; he was self-destructing by the age of 11. But, in the process they were essentially forced to neglect their other kid who’s emotional hard drive was being infected with a nasty, invisible virus.

It wasn’t as if I was abused or had a terrible time while my entire family was away from me doing things I wasn’t a part of. I usually had a great time with my friends. We watched Rated R movies before I was allowed to – Silence of the Lambs when I was 12 – Yikes…no wonder I have an unnatural love for Stephen King. We ate candy until we were practically sick and wrote the names of our crushes in cursive all over any surface that could be easily concealed. We obsessed about when we would get our first period. It was a very formative time, one I remember fondly. Mostly.

While I have the good memories, I still carry the hurt of feeling left out during those years. I didn’t understand why my parents always had to be ‘away’, or why they never explained where my brother was. He would simply be gone and then he would magically reappear one day without a word of explanation. All I did know was that I couldn’t get too comfortable at home because I would have to pack a bag and sleep somewhere else in a matter of days. I know my parents were protecting me – as they should have – I just haven’t been able to shake how consistently difficult it can be for me to remain content where I am.

Is that because when I was a pre-teen I spent many, many nights in a foreign house, knowing that the following weekend I would be in a different foreign house? Is that why, to this day, I am so annoyingly unable to sleep soundly in a bed that isn’t mine? Is that why I developed a destructive coping mechanism, because I learned that being away from home meant something bad was happening behind the curtain of protection? Is it why I feel more anxious nowadays than I ever have because things in my life are actually going, dare I say, smoothly?

I’m pretty sure that’s part of it. I’ve spent years not being able to truly settle into a pattern of healthy, positive, loving behavior because I’ve either been sorting through a loss, a giant mess of my own making or I’ve been bracing for the shit to hit the fan again. Part of me is waiting for that to happen now. That’s where the anxiety comes from – the anticipation of something awful, life changing and completely out of my control barreling straight for my pretty little forehead.

And that’s fine. Things will happen. Life isn’t easy and it owes me nothing. I can breathe more freely, more deeply now. I can sit with anxiety, knowing that it is fiercely fickle and will eventually move on.

The last 7 months have been a lovely, progressive shift from some dark, dark days into the light for me. The relationship I’m in grows more complex and fulfilling with every passing week. I got accepted to graduate school and my classes start May 15th. I’m going to move in with my boyfriend in the next few months. My future seems bright, and more importantly, it feels possible. 

Everything feels so new. Everything feels so exciting. Everything feels so fragile. I don’t want to check out because I feel anxious. I don’t want to miss anything that is unfolding now, I am so very aware of how precious it is. My life is finally, finally facing in a direction that I am in love with and I deserve it. However, I’ve never, ever had this feeling before – it’s no wonder I feel nervous. Of course I’m going to feel scared to let myself curl up like a cat sleeping in a band of sunlight because I’m brand new to the areas of healthy relationships, meaningful work and self-acceptance. Brand spanking new.

But, it’s never too late to let go of the insecurities of the past and embrace the confidence of the future.

Never. Too. Late.

Ummm..Is this really happening?

So. I applied to grad school a few weeks ago. I found out today that I was accepted into the online MSW program at Simmons College. (!!!)

So far I feel numb, not excited. I’m a naturally slow processor anyway, so I’m not surprised. I’m also distracted by feeling incredibly burnt out. I had a majorly draining session with my therapist last night, almost cried my face completely off. Things just really caught up with me and I melted down a bit. I am unhappy at my job and small things that would normally be a minor inconvenience (i.e., one of the kids got out of school early unexpectedly and I had to drop everything to pick her up) elicit a major reaction from me. I explode and immediately choke it back. Often. It ain’t good. So, stuff has been building for a while.

I feel trapped right now – and then my thoughts begin to spin out of control, kind of like this – because I can’t afford to leave this job even though it makes me crazy and I should have gone to school sooner so that I wouldn’t be in this position now (without a worthwhile degree under my belt to pursue a meaningful career path with) and I should never have accumulated so much credit card debt because I’m absolutely stuck in trying to pay it down and until it’s gone I can’t save a dime and I have no safety net if something happens to my 10 year old car or to Mona and I don’t spend my money on anything but bills, settling my debts and food. I can barely scrape together extra money for weddings when my friends decide to get hitched. It’s sad and I hate it and I feel incredibly shitty about it. But, I am writing about it and sharing with others about it, so for me, that’s a huge step in a positive direction.

I have these financial issues (secrets) dangling over my head every single day and I pretend I don’t see them. I pretend they really don’t matter when they matter more with each passing year. I do this because when I look at the big picture of my financial life, choices, mistakes I want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. It overwhelms me on such a deep level that I generally choose to not see that I need help if I want to move forward. I hate asking for help. I’ve been independent – willfully so – since before I can remember. ‘I can do it myself’ has always been my mantra. My parents always let me figure things out on my own, they never pushed, never pressured. Never offered advice either. I’m not pointing fingers, just illustrating that I was never explicitly taught how to make good financial decisions. But I want to from here on out. I just need a little help to get me started.

Ugh, I even hate writing about this, but I want to get it out of me. Writing here is therapy.

So, last night I was talking about all this stuff with my therapist and came to the realization that I don’t feel deserving of any financial help from my mother because I’m adopted. I don’t feel entitled to what my therapist called ‘my birthright’ because I wasn’t actually born into it. You can say all you want about how biological connection isn’t everything and some blood related kids deserve a swift kick in the ass and how lucky I am (which I totally am) to have had the opportunities I did growing up. I definitely know. And I also know my mother always, always, always, always, sees me as nothing but her daughter but that doesn’t make me feel any less conflicted about it.

This is a core issue for me. It is a central theme to every single solitary event in my life. And despite whatever progress I make away from it I always somehow meander my way back to it. No matter what the problem is, a part of it feels attached to the belief that I don’t belong because I was given up as a baby. I can sift through my sordid and chaotic past to see if I can find something, anything that isn’t indelibly tied to ADOPTION and all the upside down feelings I have about it and I will find fuckall. I even found my birth parents hoping that would salve this aching scar somehow. That theory worked for a short time, right after we reconnected. But ultimately, finding them, learning about them and losing contact with them opened the wound wider and deeper.

I still work every day to feel secure in myself, to feel a sense of belonging. Sometimes it comes as easily as breathing – my friends and my love help with that all the time. On other days the scar tissue around my old wound cracks and breaks…the pain seeps into my pores. It hurts. It fucking kills. My response to it used to be to drink an entire bottle of wine. Or eat until I was disgustingly full. Or go to a bar and find a stranger to take home. Used. To. Be.

God, that’s freeing to write down.

I had a really bad day yesterday and I didn’t want to drink. I didn’t want to numb myself from the exquisite pain. And for that, right there, I’m grateful. Even when I feel I am crumbling, fraying at the edges and that I barely exist, I’m still the strongest I have ever been and I didn’t need to turn to alcohol, or food, or a man. I sat with it, moved through it and I’m letting it go today piece by piece.

I’ve come a long way from last June when I wrote my first post and said ‘I’m an addict’ in this Blog O’Mine. Seriously. I applied to grad school and got ACCEPTED.

I think it’s sinking in a little now….

Holy Shit.